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9 November, 2006

Cycle ride: Lancaster-Kirkby Lonsdale-Dent-Kingsdale-Lancaster

In hindsight, I'm a little surprised I planned today's ride.  I suppose I must have considered it the natural evolution of earlier trips, linking two routes I know I can manage without especial effort.  It turned out to be the longest ride I've done yet.

Over the past couple of years, I've visited all six of the significant valleys in the south-western 'corner' of the Yorkshire Dales between Ribblesdale and Barbondale, apart from one: Kingsdale, above Ingleton, on the opposite side of the Whernside ridge from Chapel-le-Dale. The road up the valley is a through-route, linking Ingleton and Dentdale over a pass between Whernside and Crag Hill/Great Coum. I've cycled to Dent before, and have frequently cycled to/from Ingleton as parts of longer rides or in combination with walks up the Three Peaks (individually!), so cycling out over Barbondale and back over Kingsdale, finishing with the familiar ride home from Ingleton, shouldn't have been a problem. Right?

Completing the route clockwise may explain why I chose to ride the full distance. I could have saved ~19 km (~12 miles) by catching a train to Wennington, but I'd have been avoiding only the easiest part of the lead-in, plus waiting for the train and traveling via Carnforth would have taken about as long. It would have been worthwhile to stay on the train to Higher Bentham and follow Kingsdale first (i.e. reverse the route), but I particularly wanted to avoid the extremely steep climb (~145 m of ascent within 1 km) from Dent to Barbondale and wanted to get the tough part (Barbondale) out of the way first. Anyone who knows the area will spot the huge flaw, but I didn't until later.

I didn't exactly rush. Nowadays I tend to complete the lead-in sections of longer rides as quickly as possible by following the most direct routes out of Lancaster, typically 'A' roads. Today I followed the canal to the Aqueduct, then the cycle track to the Crook O'Lune, making several photo stops. Similarly, once on the Lune Valley floodplain, I didn't blast along to Kirkby Lonsdale at ~30 km/h as usual, instead stopping to explore Melling churchyard. I'd normally bypass Kirkby Lonsdale on the way to Barbondale, but I made a diversion across Devil's Bridge and into the village, mainly to take photos, but I also took the opportunity to buy a little more food & drink.
I did optimise the route in one way. Rather than following the main road to Barbon and very steep lane to Barbondale, I turned off the A683 immediately after Casterton, following tiny lanes and an easy climb past Whelprigg. Must remember that one.

As the accompanying photos show, the weather had been fine to this point, but as I turned north-east into the main section of Barbondale, the sky darkened abruptly and I was concerned about rain. Yet as I reached the head of the pass, it brightened again, clearer than ever. Why does that always happen?

I paused there, looking down into Dentdale. This was the 'point of no return' (in senses other than the literal). I could turn back now, with an easy downhill ride almost all the way back to Lancaster, but I'd have failed to reach my destination, and would have to cycle all this way again to make a later attempt. I could go on to Dent and turn back from there, but I'd have to face the nasty ascent back to this point and still wouldn't have seen Kingsdale. Or I could go on.

I had a quick look at Dent Church and the village's cobbled main street, but even at 14:20 the shadows were lengthening, so I soon checked the map for the next stage. I'll need to explore the rest of Dentdale at a later date – November days are too short.

Remember I mentioned a flaw in the plan? Somehow, I'd misread the map or merely presumed that the road from Dent to Ingleton was an easy, low-level pass. Only now did I look closer, and realise what I'd taken on. The top of the pass was high – much higher than Barbondale; over half as high again, in fact (468 m asl vs 300 m) and almost as steep in places. Okay, ~320 m of ascent in ~4 km isn't extreme (which is why I wasn't dissuaded), but remember that this was ~45 km into the ride, and I knew I'd have at least a further ~35 km to go after the head of the pass. Slightly daunting.

It was as tough as I'd expected, especially where the road builders had given up on hairpin bends and had just cut straight up the 1-in-less-than-5 gradient. I managed that, but it nearly finished me; twice within the next kilometre I found myself unable to turn the pedals, lost forward momentum and simply stalled. I was almost too tired to appreciate the achievement of reaching the top and seeing Kingsdale, and had already freewheeled for a kilometre before realising a photo stop might be appropriate.

Again, I'll have to return to Kingsdale another time, as I'd reached it too late in the day to explore and too tired to be bothered. The only part that really interested me was the ~40 m ascent to get out of the valley – grr! In fact, my immediate memory of Kingsdale wasn't especially favourable, so the accompanying photos were a pleasant surprise.

So that was it: I was back in a familiar area, just above Thornton-in-Lonsdale and Ingleton, and the remaining distance was just a formality. I stopped for a rest and to drink the last of my water (actually, Coke; I'd finished the water quite a while ago), then headed home non-stop. I don't remember the final ~28 km being a struggle, but then again, I don't remember it at all.

Overall I'd covered 93.21 km (57.92 miles) at an average speed of 20.27km/h (12.6 mph) and reaching 49.08 km/h (30.5 mph) at least once. As that low average and the foregoing description illustrates, I didn't exactly push myself, and the trip took seven hours (10:45-17:45), but no-one said it was a race. I ride for the views, not the exercise.

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